Is Your Cow Too Old? Consider These Factors

Farmer finds profits in the oldest cow in the herd.

Published on: Oct 17, 2013

Cows are not culled just because of age at Terry Little's farm near Monticello. The Lewis County cattleman contends that older cows can improve a farm's profitability.

Little started raising cattle with his grandfather in the 1950s. He manages a grass-based operation. The family recently had a dispersal sale, selling all but one group of 33 embryo heifers and any cow 10 ½ years of age or older.  "We kept cripples, frosted ears, stuff nobody wanted," he explains.

The semi-retired Angus breeder contends that good forage and cow longevity are keys to the success of the cattle industry. Little shared his insight with cattlemen from northeast Missouri during the 2013 University of Missouri Commercial Ag Beef Tour.

GOOD GRASS: Terry Little says good grass helps keep his cattle in condition. The Lewis County farmer relies on rental ground to supplement his forage during the summer months. "I believe grass is the secret to profitability," he says. "You have to grow what you feed."
GOOD GRASS: Terry Little says good grass helps keep his cattle in condition. The Lewis County farmer relies on rental ground to supplement his forage during the summer months. "I believe grass is the secret to profitability," he says. "You have to grow what you feed."

"When a cow turns 8 years old nobody wants her," he says. "But if she has weaned 7 calves why get rid of her? What if we can double that and get 14 calves out of her? We have a whole pasture of 15-year-old cows. And they are still going."

He says cost for raising replacement heifers is increasing, estimating it at $2,000 before she even begins producing calves. With that in mind, farmers should consider keeping the mother, save the cost, and put more money in their pocket.

Terry Little outlines four main attributes an older cow must possess before keeping her in the herd: mobility, good health, good udders, and disposition.
Terry Little outlines four main attributes an older cow must possess before keeping her in the herd: mobility, good health, good udders, and disposition.

Little outlines four main attributes an older cow must possess before keeping her in the herd:

Mobility-"Cows must have excellent feet and legs," Little says. "We select for frame, milk production, and marbling, but we never select for good feet and legs." He says cows that cannot walk or move about freely do not make it long in an operation. "You can't breed a downer cow." He uses feet and leg structure in selecting both bulls and cows.

Good health- Farmers need to test every cow for Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV), Brucellosis, Johne's, Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVD), and Anaplasmosis to name a few. "Maintaining cows that are in good health and free of disease will increase longevity," he says.

Good udders- If farmers plan to keep cows that are 15 -years-old, they need to ensure that they are able to provide milk. Farmers need to look at udders. Check teat placement. Cows must be able to supply the nutrition needed to get calves to weaning weight.

Disposition- Farmers should be able to work with and around cows. Cows need not only to have a disposition that is good for the farmer, but also the calf. Little adds that as farmer's age, they need cows that will work with them. "We are not as agile as we once were."